Along Came The Spider was the first full length novel by Alice Doreen Louise McIntosh.
It is a story of three diverse sisters who learn that they have unexpectedly been left a considerable ancient property. They are very excited – but Kate who is psychic, worries about aspects of the Will. Why does it state that they have to live together for three months or nobody will inherit? Why do they have to start living in the house before the end of the year? Why does it feel they are being manipulated? Kate’s sisters are prepared to do anything asked of them to inherit; Kate is reluctant. Her sisters say she is selfish; what can go wrong in such a brief time? What indeed! It’s winter in the 1950's and the horrors of the Second World War are gradually becoming history, along with many of its restrictions. But for Kate, the threat of danger is not over and she must confront her enemy. A novel with some sinister surprises but also full of some fun.
A story of intrigue and suspense, albeit with quite a lot of humour.
Doreen was Dyslexic and also her schooling was interrupted by the 1939 war and evacuation to Newcastle. She did not learn to read and write properly until quite late in her first years at school. However, once she’d mastered written language there was no holding her back and she won several prizes at school for her writing.
Doreen wrote throughout her life: John, her husband, is still finding diaries and brief notes from years gone by. Not just information about the family and her art but her views on the current news and things that were happening in the world, for instance, thoughts on nuclear proliferation and the environment.
Whilst engaged with the activities of the Women’s Institute Doreen wrote and performed monologues much in the vein of one of her favourite authors and actresses, Joyce Grenfell.
In the nineties she started attending writing courses at the Isle of Wight Technical College, in Newport. It was at these courses that the germ to write a novel began. Initially called the ‘The Bequest’ it became ‘Along Came the Spider’. Her publishers listed her book as a thriller and although there are passages of tension there are also a lot of laughs.
Many of the characters in the book are drawn from people and relatives Doreen knew well; in particular her mother and three of her mother’s sisters who were always quarrelling.
This passage from the book draws heavily on an actual incident that occurred between Doreen’s mother and one of the sisters. Although it seems extreme to us, they often did argue over pennies and the possibility that one or other of them had kept back an extra penny or two when they had done some shopping for the other.
In the book, Kate the heroine is the youngest, most reasonable and pragmatic of three sisters. One of her sisters, Maud, fancies herself as a femme-fatale theatrical diva but is, in reality, just a drama queen and the other, Winn, is a determinedly ‘proper’ and upright member of conservative middle class society. In this excerpt, from Chapter 7, Kate is being told of a public clash between her two sisters by her nosey, busybody neighbour, Mrs Vera Carpenter who has insisted on inviting herself into Kate’s kitchen for tea:
‘Well,’ said Vera with relish, ‘when I got to the bus stop in Shelton they was ‘aving a row. Your Maud was really mad.’ She grinned. ‘Yelled she did, that she wouldn’t be called a liar - and when she saw me, she got all actressy and la-di-da like. She’d probably ‘ad a tipple. I’ve been told she likes to drink, ‘as a bit of a problem that way; that’s what I ‘eard.’
‘She doesn’t have a drink problem, you have been misinformed,’ Kate replied cooly.
‘That’s right dear; I’ve ‘eard the family’s the last to know. Sly - that’s what these bingers are!... Your Maudie was so funny. Poor old Winn was standing at the bus stop ‘olding some eggs, she looked very cross. She said about ‘ow Maud ‘ad overcharged ‘er and bought rotten tomatoes to boot.’
‘The bus was coming and Winnie bent to pick up ‘er basket full of shopping and ‘er dry cleaning, and Maud grabbed the eggs and squashed them on Winn’s posh brown ‘at as she stood up. Then Maud wiped ‘er ‘ands down the front of Winn’s coat. The bus stopped, and Maudie got on and pressed the bell afore anyone else could get on or the conductor saw, and the bus went off and we was all left standing there. Poor old Winnie,’ she laughed, ‘er ‘at dripping with eggs and knocked side-ways over ‘er eye.’ Vera was grinning and clasping her hand over her mouth to stifle her laugh.
Kate felt horrified.
‘Your Maud called “ta-ta” to Winnie, “you can pay me later”, and she stuck ‘er tongue out like this,’ she showed her horrid furry tongue. ‘Not very nice is it?’
She stuffed more cake into her mouth and Kate wished it would choke her.
Vera stopped to gobble up the cake and press her licked finger onto each crumb on the plate. ‘It’s not bad for a ‘omemade cake Kate, but shop cakes is better - if you can afford them.’
‘If you can afford it,’ Kate said drily. She poured the tea.
‘This tea’s the same sort as your Winn gets isn’t it? I saw it when ‘er basket tipped over. Mmm… I think tea leaves is better than them new-fangled teabags, don’t you? Them is all dusty bits. Our Betty puts the bag in the teapot, but I think that’s mad if you ask me, I cut them open. Do yer still read tea-leaves Katy? I ‘eard as ‘ow good you is. You can do mine if you like.’
Kate shook her head, ‘No thank you, I don’t do it now.’
‘Oh, go on - I’ll pay you - I could get you a lot of customers.’
‘No thank you, Mrs Carpenter.’
Vera looked offended and, having finished all the cake, she sniffed and said, ‘Now, where was I? Oh yes, poor old Winnie was in an awful mess.’ Vera grinned and showed her chipped, stained false teeth to perfection.
‘Well you see I ‘ad to wait for the next bus to get to our Betty’s and look after the kids. They are on ‘olidays - these teachers ‘ave lots of ‘olidays and they don’t do much do they? They just yell at the kids, and that’s not ‘ard work. Our Betty’s got day jobs cleaning and one cleaning at the doctor’s place in the evenings.’
‘That’s nice.’ Kate said while thinking, ‘I hope they keep the files locked up’. She’d had enough of Vera and prepared to end the visit by moving towards the door.
‘Betty is lucky to have your help with the boys and I’m sure you can’t spare anymore time Mrs Carpenter, or they’ll be getting into mischief. I really must phone my sister now to find out how she is.’
She grinned at Kate, ‘Call me Vera, dear.’ She grabbed the couple of biscuits that had been left on the plate and poured herself more tea. ‘If you want another cup Katy, you’ll ‘ave to boil a drop more water for the pot.’
Kate shook her head, but Vera wasn’t going to take the hint and leave if she could help it. Sitting in here was better than bothering with her grandsons.
‘Them kids will be all right and anyway, you ‘aven’t ‘eard what ‘appened next.’
‘Next?’ Kate felt that she had heard more than enough already.
Vera’s eyes glinted with delight.
‘Well, Winnie was that angry,’ Vera showed her awful teeth again, ‘You’ll never guess what she did!’
‘What did she do?’
‘She’s a good thrower your Winn is.’
‘Oh yes. She took one of them unbroken eggs and tossed it as ‘ard as she could at Maudie as she waved from the bus.’
‘Are you saying she hit Maud with the egg?’ astonished, Kate asked.
‘Oh no - the bus was going around the bend by then, she missed by a mile.’
‘Well then?’ Kate was relieved.
‘She ‘it a bloke in a car!’ Vera giggled.
‘My sister hit a man in a car with an egg?’
‘‘it ‘is windscreen so ’e couldn’t see nothing as ‘e drove on the other side.’
She shook her head. ‘‘E shouldn’t ‘ave put his wipers on - it got egg white and yolk all over the screen!’
Vera had her hand clasped over her mouth again and rocked, laughing, on her chair.
‘Then, the car bumped up on the pavement. Lucky the postman dived out the way. Good job ‘e was young or ‘e’d ‘ave been ‘it.’
Kate sighed with relief.
‘Yes - it was only ‘is bag what was sent flying; letters was all over the place. The car stopped when it ‘it the lamppost.’
‘Yes awful.’ Vera said happily as she carried on. ‘The postman rushed about picking up them letters and ‘e backed into the winder cleaner’s ladder what was doing the baker’s shop. The bloke tried to ‘ang on to the blind but it ripped and ‘is pail tipped over that posh woman, Mrs Bligh-Jones, what ‘ad come out the shop. The pail stuck on ‘er ‘ead. Do you know ‘er? She always wears posh ‘ats.’
Kate nodded. She did know the woman by sight, she was hard to miss.
‘Well the bucket went right over ‘er ‘ead and, with the ‘at on, it got stuck. I think she was surprised.’
Kate felt shocked.
‘Mrs Bligh-Jones couldn’t see nothing and she tottered backwards and fell over the ladder and landed on the winder cleaner – ‘e was surprised.’
‘Was he all right?’
‘She’s big woman, you know – ‘e didn’t say much. She was a screaming and kicking her legs about, you should ‘ave seen ‘er blue petticoat and drawers. ‘er brown leather shoes ‘ad ‘eels what done for the postman.’
‘The postman! What happened to him?’
‘Oh, she give ‘im a whopping kick in the bal…in between ‘is legs as ‘e was trying to pick up ‘is letters. ‘e didn’t collect no more letters! Then, the baker’s wife rushed out the shop and banged on Mrs Bligh-Jones’s bucket. She yelled at ‘er to calm down, “you is all right,” but it didn’t do no good. Mrs Bligh-Jones ‘as got no backbone. She just kept screaming.’
‘Mr Thomas, the baker, ‘E came rushing out. ‘e saw Mrs Bligh-Jones sitting on the winder cleaner, wearing the bucket on ‘er ‘ead, ‘er skirt was right up, showed ‘er blue knickers, they was decent ones, not these rude foreign ones.’ She gave Kate a look. ‘‘e tried to cover ‘er up and just missed the same as what the postman got and then ‘is wife picked up Mrs Bligh-Jones’s basket and ‘er bag of cream cakes and bashed ‘im on ‘is ‘ead.’
‘It did look funny. ‘E yelled with cream over ‘is ‘ead, “what’s that for” and she said, “because you’re being too ruddy familiar, looking at that their woman’s drawers, and you never look at mine no more.”’ Vera laughed out loud.
‘Could you hear all that from the bus stop on the other side of the road?’ Kate asked.
‘No. I crossed the road to see me friend Daisy – to see if we could ‘elp and that. She was coming for the bus too. I said as why I missed the bus and she didn’t ‘alf laugh.’ Vera stopped short, hoping she hadn’t said too much and she continued quickly. ‘Then, the car what was covered with all the eggs backed onto the road as a red sports car what was coming round the corner.’
Kate held her breath…